Save Money on Healthcare Without Using Obamacare [Our 2018 Liberty HealthShare Review]

Stratospheric health insurance premiums have become practically cliche in recent years. So much so, that even eight years into the rollout of Obamacare, millions of Americans continue to go without health insurance.

If you can get health insurance through your employer, that is usually the cheapest option. But if you are self employed it can be difficult to find affordable options.

Christian health sharing ministries are one of the very best alternatives to traditional health insurance. And one of the best health sharing ministries available is Liberty HealthShare.

Participation in the ministry could enable those who can't otherwise afford health insurance to get coverage, and many others to get it at much more affordable rates.

About Liberty HealthShare

Based in Canton, Ohio, and started in 1995, Liberty HealthShare is a health care sharing ministry sponsored by The Gospel Light Mennonite Church Medical Aid Plan, Inc. It’s based on the Biblical directive to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

Health sharing ministries are not insurance in the true sense. They’re actually faith-based plans in which individual members pool their funds, to pay for the medical expenses of those within the group who incur them. This is similar to what insurance does, but it lacks a lot of the more technical and specific provisions of actual health insurance.

However, the net effect of health sharing ministries is very close to traditional health insurance, which is why they’ve become so popular in recent years. Because they are lower in cost than traditional health insurance, they’ve become even more popular since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), and its attendant high premiums.

Keep in mind that health sharing ministries are exempt from the Affordable Care Act penalty (which is due to expire in 2019 anyway).

Related: Medi-share Review: The Affordable Alternative to Expensive Health Insurance

How Liberty HealthShare Works

Each participating member makes a monthly contribution (“monthly share”) to an online ShareBox. Through the ministry’s ShareDirect bill payment, the amount in a member’s ShareBox is automatically transferred directly to another member’s ShareBox, to pay for any eligible medical expenses for that person.

One of the benefits of this ministry is that you're free to choose your own doctor. There are no networks that are typical with traditional health insurance. But the ministry works with both members and their medical providers to keep costs fair and reasonable.

If you have a medical procedure coming up, you can check with the ministry and they'll help to find the best provider, while eliminating unnecessary costs and procedures. In a fact, it's set up as a self-pay system, but one supported by the ministry community.

 

When you submit your medical bills, the ministry has a team of professionals that will advocate for you with your service providers to keep costs reasonable.

 

Unlike many traditional health insurance plans, the ministry does not require referrals, and only limited pre-notification. But you will be issued an ID card that will have all necessary information for the plan.

Since Liberty HealthShare is a health sharing ministry and not traditional insurance, services are handled a bit differently. You must explain to the provider that you are self-pay, but part of a community of people who have pledged to share expenses.

(They will almost certainly be familiar with the health sharing ministry concept.)

Present your ID card, and explain that your bills should be sent either electronically or by mail according to the instructions on the card. Reimbursement will come from the ministry.

Liberty HealthShare Eligibility

To be eligible for the ministry, you must be healthy and leading a healthy lifestyle, and not use tobacco, or abuse alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription drugs. You must also strive to live in accordance with biblical principles, and participate regularly in worship or prayer.

As a member of the ministry, you must pledge to abide by the Statement of Shared Beliefs, then truthfully disclose information about yourself, both when you join, and when you submit medical expenses for sharing.

The Statement of Shared Beliefs is as follows:

Liberty HealthShare Features and Benefits

Pre-existing conditions. These are excluded from coverage for the first 12 months of participation. Limited coverage (up to $50,000) is available for the first 13 to 36 months of participation. After 36 months, pre-existing conditions are eligible for full sharing.

Prescriptions. Tier 4 prescriptions used for acute illness for the 45 days following each related medical incident are eligible. However, tier 1, 2, and 3 prescriptions are not. (Tier 4 drugs are high cost prescriptions, which do not have generic equivalents. Tiers 1 – 3 include generics, non-preferred generics, and preferred brand name medications.)

Provider network. There is no network, and you can use health care providers of your own choice. However, the ministry does have a list of more than 23,000 preferred providers nationwide.

HealthTrac. This is a special provision for those with pre-existing health conditions. This program was developed so that qualifying members can improve their health. It's specifically designed for those with pre-existing conditions that can be positively affected by making certain lifestyle changes. Those conditions include diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and even tobacco use.

Participants are assigned a health coach, who helps to develop a personal plan to achieve goals related to the condition. Participants are required to check in at least once each month to track progress through the program.

The health coach will help to set realistic goals, provide tools and resources to help achieve those goals, send motivational and inspirational tools, and provide diet recommendations, including designing a balanced menu per the participant’s request.

HealthTrac has a participation fee of $80 per month, over and above the regular monthly share amount. But once the participant reaches their program goals, the fee is removed.

Related Podcast: Millennial Money Expert Stefanie O'Connell Uses Liberty HealthShare

Example: Family of Four Using the Three Different Liberty HealthShare Plans

Liberty HealthShare offers three different program options. We're going to take a look at all three, and then we're going to look at two plans from the health insurance exchanges for comparison sake.

I've done a profile of a fictitious family of four to compare coverage between all three Liberty HealthShare plans, and two from healthcare.gov.

The family profile is as follows:

  • Husband, age 40
  • Wife, age 40
  • Child, age 12
  • Child, age10
  • Household income, $100,000 per year
  • Location, Fulton County (Atlanta metro area), Georgia

For each of the five plans listed below, we’ll calculate the cost of coverage for this fictitious family.

 

Liberty Complete

 

This is Liberty HealthShare’s most popular plan. It covers eligible medical costs up to $1 million per incident. It also provides the entire range of medical and pharmacy discount services.

The annual unshared amount (deductible equivalent) is $1,000 for an individual policy, $1,750 for a couple, and $2,250 for a family.

Under the Liberty Complete plan, the cost of coverage for our fictitious family of four is $529 per month, with a $2,250 deductible equivalent.

 

Liberty Plus Plan

 

This plan covers medical costs up to $125,000 per incident. It also includes the full range of medical and pharmacy discount services. The annual unshared amount Is $1,000 per individual, $1,750 per couple, and $2,250 per family.

Under the Liberty Plus plan, the cost of coverage for our fictitious family of four is $504 per month, with a $2,250 deductible equivalent.

 

Liberty Share Plan

 

The Liberty Share Plan covers up to 70% of eligible medical costs, up to $125,000 – which tells us this is NOT a cost-effective plan. The slight savings in the monthly share amount doesn’t justify the much greater liability the family is assuming.

Medical expenses are met on a per person, per incident basis, when treated by physicians, urgent care facilities, clinics, emergency rooms, or at both inpatient and outpatient hospitals. There is no pharmacy discount service with this plan.

The annual unshared amount is $1,000 for an individual policy, $1,750 for a couple, and $2,250 for a family.

Under the Liberty Share plan, the cost of coverage for our fictitious family of four is $479 per month, with a $2,250 deductible equivalent.

Now, let’s shift gears, and look at two plans from the health insurance exchange for Fulton County, Georgia.

Related: How to Get a Health Insurance Quote at eHealthInsurance.com

Example: Family of Four Using Two Different Obamacare Plans

Healthcare.gov provides a site where you can get estimates of health insurance plans in your area without having to go through the full application process. I’ve pulled up two that are most comparable to the plans offered by Liberty HealthShare.

Both plans reflect a $600 per month tax subsidy. But be aware that if the family’s household income goes above $100,000, the tax subsidy will decline, and eventually disappear. By contrast, health sharing ministry plans don’t have a subsidy, and aren’t restricted by income level.

The first is a Gold plan, offering a low deductible of $2,000. The low deductible is the reason for this quote. But the out-of-pocket maximum is $12,700, which includes deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance provisions. Under the co-insurance provision, you’re required to pay 20% of your medical costs beyond your deductible. Once you reach the out-of-pocket maximum, services are covered at 100% of cost.

The monthly premium is about $988, with the potential out-of-pocket maximum of $12,700. But notice the cost of the plan will be $1,588 per month if the $600 per month tax subsidy goes away.

The second is a bronze plan. With this plan, we're looking at the lowest cost plan, but that comes at a cost of a much higher deductible.

With the monthly premium of $410, the annual cost of the premium is $4,920. But if you have an unfortunate year, where you reach the out-of-pocket maximum of $15,800, your total cost for the plan for the year will be $20,720.

The premium is certainly reasonable on this plan. But should the worst happen, the high deductible means possible medical expenses of over $20,000. That could bankrupt a family of four. What's more, if the $600 per month tax subsidy is removed, the actual cost of the plan goes to $1,010 per month. And that still includes the $15,800 out-of-pocket maximum.

 

Liberty HealthShare vs Obamacare: Who Wins?

 

Showing five plans was just for comparison sake. The best “head-to-head” example though is between the Liberty HealthShare Liberty Complete Plan and the Healthcare.gov Gold plan.

With the Liberty HealthShare Liberty Complete Plan the monthly premium is $529, and the deductible equivalent is $2,250. Plus, you won’t be at risk of losing a premium subsidy for a higher income.

Under the Gold plan, the monthly premium is $988 with a $2,000 deductible. But you also have an out-of-pocket maximum of $12,700, as well as the possibility of losing some or all of the tax subsidy if your income increases.

If you go with the Liberty HealthShare Liberty Complete Plan, you’ll save $359 per month, as well as avoid up to $12,700 in out-of-pocket costs.

This is the reason why health sharing programs are becoming so popular.

Liberty HeathShare Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Ministry plan costs are about half what they are for traditional insurance.
  • The deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs are much lower than traditional health insurance.
  • Provider reimbursements are faster and less bureaucratic than traditional insurance, a winning point with hospitals and doctors.
  • There is no out-of-network limit. Traditional health insurance often restricts out-of-network reimbursements to 60% o 70%.
  • Health sharing ministries have become one of the most popular alternatives to high cost health insurance.

Cons:

  • The plan is not available to the general public. You must be a practicing, Bible-believing Christian to participate.
  • Liberty HealthShare is not an insurance plan, and does not guarantee payment of medical bills (though they do have an excellent record of payment).
  • There are no benefits available beyond the limits of each plan.
  • There is a possibility that a provider won’t accept participation in the ministry.

Should You Join Liberty HealthShare?

If you're currently going without health insurance, or you have it and the payments are breaking your budget, joining a health sharing ministry is one of the best possible alternatives. Though it's not traditional health insurance, it provides nearly equivalent benefits. And it does so at about half the cost of traditional health insurance.

Liberty HealthShare is one of the largest and most highly regarded health sharing ministries in the country. If you decide to go the health sharing ministry route, this one must be on your short list.

If you’d like more information, or you’d like to sign up for the service, visit the Liberty HealthShare website.

What's your health insurance situation like? Have you ever tried a health sharing program?

 

Comments

    Speak Your Mind

    *

  1. Thanks for this overview. My wife and I are self-employed (with three boys) and we do not qualify for a subsidy with ACA plans. Needless to say, costs were getting out of hand. We transitioned to Liberty for 2018 and chronicled our experience at our website. We tried to be practical, detailed and factual so others could learn from our experience. We’ve seen some pros but many cons as well. I think it’s important that balanced research is done with all decisions. Hope others gain some benefit from our details.

    • Michelle Smith says:

      Hello Dan – I would be most interested in reading about your experience – we are a healthy family of three trying to navigate the process. Can you guide me to your website ?
      many thanks